A look at the awards success of Beastie Boy Adam Yauch's Oscilloscope Laboratories

Posted by · 3:23 pm · May 4th, 2012

I’ve been out all afternoon, so the sudden news of Adam Yauch — better known as MCA of The Beastie Boys — succumbing to cancer has been all Twitter remembrances and mobile news briefs for me. And all sadness. HitFix’s Katie Hasty has plenty to say about it here, Melinda Newman here. Really and truly, I feel like a piece of me went with him. And I think anyone who has grown up with that music knows what it has meant.

But as many movie sites have dutifully pointed out, Yauch’s creative reach was significant in the film world as well. And his tenure as a driving force behind indie distributor Oscilloscope Laboratories has ushered brave pick-ups and challenging cinematic material to the fore for the last four years or so.

Awards success greeted a few of those titles. Most significant was a Best Supporting Actor nomination for Woody Harrelson as well as a Best Original Screenplay nomination for Alessandro Camon and Oren Moverman for “The Messenger” in 2009, which itself flirted with the first-ever expanded Best Picture line-up during that season.

Documentaries from the distributor have done well, too. Scott Hamilton Kennedy’s “The Garden” was the first to land an Oscar nod, in 2009. Anders Østergaard’s “Burma VJ: Reporting from a Closed Country” scooped one up in 2010, while Marshall Curry and Sam Cullman’s “If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front” made it three in a row last season. And that lineage really began with “Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father” in 2008, for my money one of the top 10 films of that year.

Like any company headed by such a bold spirit, there have also been brave acquisitions, like “Bellflower” last year and “Wendy and Lucy” in 2008 (sparking audiences to Kelly Reichardt’s work and establishing a relationship that continued recently with “Meek’s Cutoff”). Last season, Lynne Ramsay’s “We Need to Talk About Kevin” was another move the company was willing to make where others weren’t, ensuring the filmmaker’s uncompromising vision would find an audience — and it certainly attracted plenty of goodwill for actress Tilda Swinton along the circuit, even if an Oscar nod wasn’t ultimately in the cards.

THAT lineage continues this year with Andrea Arnold’s singular “Wuthering Heights,” still playing festivals and waiting for its moment, as well as Ron Fricke’s latest, “Samsara,” among others.

Yauch’s Oscilloscope has been a company skirting awards attention for the most part, but in it for all the right reasons. So when that attention has come, it has felt earned, just and legit. Now that he’s gone, I hope the message and the ambition stays the course, because it has felt like an artists’ haven these last few years, a place ready and willing to nurture that which doesn’t necessarily make the most sense in a bookkeeper’s ledger. That kind of nurturing does, however, ensure growth and confidence in filmmakers.

There’s really no award big enough for that. It’s a priceless contribution. And I think a guy like Yauch got that.

“I’m flowing prose to cons and cons to pros/I’m scheming rhyme against reason like it was flow against know/But beyond the concepts and emotions that rise/To the interconnectedness that underlies/The lies upon lies have lost their meaning/The plies upon plies of consciousness that is being/Over and over I fall I learned to walk from a crawl/It’s not sad it’s just the way and the purpose of it all.”

Rest in peace, MCA. Keep the party going until we get there.

For year-round entertainment news and awards season commentary follow @kristapley on Twitter.

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